A Sanctuary of Healing, Born of Tragedy

How this Sandy Hook mom survived her daughter’s loss.

By Jennifer Hubbard, Newtown, Connecticut

As appeared in

Sunday morning, two days after the shooting, two days that felt like two eternities, I sat with my husband, Matt, on our living room couch in Newtown, Connecticut, staring at the blank document on my laptop, wondering where to start, how to start. How to find the words to write my little girl’s obituary.

Family and friends milled about. A coffee cake sat on the kitchen counter untouched, as if the thought of eating in the face of such tragedy was a kind of sacrilege.

It felt as if we were caught in a bank of fog trying to find our way to some sort of comprehension of what had happened in our peaceful New England village 75 miles north of New York City.

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People need to know how much love went out of this world when she died, I finally thought. Just tell them. I willed my fingers to type.

“Catherine Violet Hubbard, age 6, born June 8, 2006, passed away Friday, December 14, 2012, during the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She is survived by her older brother, Frederick....”

So unnatural for a parent to be writing about the loss of her child. It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Catherine should have been a mom herself telling the world what a good mom and grandma I had been, that I had lived long and well and died peacefully after a happy life.

And yet our sweet, loving, beautiful daughter was gone. What more was there to say? Her life was over almost before it had begun, but the void she left felt unfillable.

She could be shy around adults, like lots of little girls. With animals or other kids it was another story, especially with animals. She came alive with love, our own miniature flame-haired Dr. Doolittle. It was as if she couldn’t contain her need to care about every living thing.

How many hours did Catherine spend in the backyard with her friends patiently training our old yellow Lab mix to jump over a stick? Hugging her. Picking her up, though she weighed twice as much Catherine. She had a thing for critters—her pet bunny, her fish, the crickets in our yard on lazy summer nights, even the worms.

Butterflies were a big deal. She’d gasp with delight when one landed on her hand, which they always seemed to do. Maybe it was because she’d whisper to them, “Tell all your friends I’m kind.” Yes, kind. Catherine knew what she was and how precious kindness is in this world.

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Not long ago she made her own business cards with Catherine’s Animal Shelter across the top. Care Taker, she wrote under her name. She handed them out to friends and to her first grade teacher at Sandy Hook. Matt and I smiled at her sense of purpose.

She was never without some kind of animal, usually one of her unbelievably huge collection of stuffed toys. She piled them around her on the bed at night. In the morning she always picked one to put in her backpack for school. As if she had to have something with her to care for, even a stuffed animal.

First grade, going to class all day, had been an adjustment. For her and for me. More me, probably. When she was in preschool and kindergarten I cherished having our afternoons together.

I rushed to get my chores and errands done so when she got home I could give her all my attention, make time for art projects, baking cookies and reading with her. Those hours were precious to me, and so much more precious now that God had called her home.

I didn’t know why Catherine died. The greatest comfort—the only comfort—was knowing she was in the safest place of all, in heaven, with no hate and no bullets, only love and life eternal.

To learn more about the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, visit their website and watch this video.

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Your Comments (19)

God Bless your daughter tears came to my eyes after reading This. Our children are most precious thing we have. May you will found peace of mind.

Jenny, I can't think of a better way to honor Catherine's memory. It's not just an animal sanctuary, it's a celebration of her love of animals. I know she'll always be there in spirit. God bless you and your family.


God Bless all of the families. Sandy Hook made me cry for days. The precous children. I cant imagine how it hurts all the families. You have been in my prayers. I wish there was more I could do. I know all of the children are in Heaven and you will see them again. Losing a child that way is the worse way possible. I pray that God gives you peace of mind and that the nighmare you went through can be smoother. Your hearts and my heart were together that day. Helpless to help you. I just wanted to reach through the TV and hug you. I so hope that sometime your wounds will heal. Healing is hard. What happened should not have happened. You at New Town remain in our hearts. Miles away but heart and soul together. God Bless and may you be blessed and your hearts at some time become to feel better somehow.

I lost a son many years ago when he was just a baby. I know how difficult it was for me, my husband, and my daughter. I can not fully comprehend the loss of a child from violence, but I do know that your child will always live in your heart, and knowing that your child is in heaven can be comforting as you see others grow only to loss their faith, or go astray in ways we can only imagine. May God bless and keep you and give you the same peace I now have, even with my son's father also in heaven now. Both were totally sudden, unexpected deaths and difficult to accept, but I am grateful neither suffered. I am so very grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made to save us all. Thank you for sharing Catherine's story! I am also an animal lover, so I think the memorial is a blessing for many, both human and animals of all kinds.

God bless and hold you close. As an animal lover, believer and fellow Mom of a redhead, your story especially touches my heart. Keep the faith and know Catherine is smiling down on you, watching her animal sanctuary take form. What a wonderful thing to do and what a fitting memorial. Thank you for sharing Catherine's story.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of your beautiful daughter with the world. It has inspired faith and strength in me and so many others. God bless you all and send you peace.

There are no words of sympathy or compassion that are enough to help you with the loss of Catherine. My heart breaks for you. But something...someone...compels me to write and let you know that Catherine and I share the same birthday. Decades apart, but nonetheless. If not too presumptuous, I'd like to start a new birthday tradition this year...,a prayer for Catherine, as I keep her name in my heart all day, and a wish for her and for your family on that day of peace and the warmth of love that you all shared. God bless.

God bless your sweet daughter, never to be forgotten. Thank you for your story, for such a sweet soul of a daughter. I had the most amazing dream of the many many many angels that greeted the children. It was an other worldly, heavenly dream. It has changed my life. I just was awfully overwhelmed by the number of angels and amount of love that met each and every child. God bless you each and every day. Each and every holiday. Each and every first, again, without her physically. She is loved and with you always. What a beautiful animal sanctuary to have in her name. Much love to you, her parents, her brother, family and friends. God bless.

Beautiful faith in the face of great pain and sorrow. The memorial animal sanctuary rocks. Catherine must be smiling down from Heaven above.

I am from Newtown, but not for many years, although I still have family there. I am so sorry for he loss of your precious little girl. Any loss is hard but to loose a child in the bloom of their innocence is terrible, and even worse when someone hurts them intentionally. Please know that this country has grieved with you and the other families and the tragedy of that day will always be in our hearts. And when we pray, our prayers are for you, for your goodness, strength, and heroism shown during this awful time. May God bless you, and keep you, may God make his face to shine upon you and give you peace.

Struggled to read through this as I haven't been able to read any comments about Dec 14th. Your amazing strength will help so many. Even some that were on the front lines waiting to save lives... But they never came. I take comfort that Jesus was with those babies and comforted them Himself in a way we never would have been able to! Blessings to you! Thanks for sharing your heart!

Thank you for sharing this story of love. I find myself distracted sometimes thinking of many of the things you shared in this writing. So grateful that you have shared Catherine with us. I will think of her and the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary often.

Dear little Catherine, the day you were born St Francis of Assisi patron saint of animals & the environment smiled & said "Catherine will be my special young caretaker of all animals".. You were chosen to spread the love of all to all & will always be remembered for your special gift.. Someday we will all meet again over the Rainbow Bridge & your family was blessed to have you..

I love your words here. Beautiful. St Francis. I just so happen to get a figurine of him this week. Your truth here, is beautiful! Now she walks with St Francis.

My prayers remain with you each time i pray. Catherine is your prescious Gift from God.You are so blessed to have her in your life and she will remain in your life until one day we will all live in peace in a an existance unknown to us but through oir faith this day will come.I pray yhat you find strenght in your everyday and that you can feel the love im sending your way.One day at a time.

What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful girl.

God bless you. Thank you for sharing this story about your beautiful daughter. I admire your courage and pray that the peace of God will fill your hearts and minds.

This tragedy is one that has stuck me deeply; being the mother of 2 grown adults and the grandmother of 3 children, the loss has resonated within my heart continually. While people around us have been engaged in debates over arming school officials I have stood silently opposed; though understanding that every individual must decide for themselves. Your families conduct is both inspiring and healing because you have lived my mantra of turning negatives into positives. Your daughter was blessed to have each of you; as you were blessed to have her. May your blessings continue to be abundant as you move forward knowing Catherine is with you always. Thank you for sharing your peace and healing process; it is a beautiful example of God's love and light.

I believe in angels and that your daughter will lead you in many ways over the years. We are inseparable.